Democrats Stuck on Healthcare While Jobs Issue Grows More Urgent

Try as she might, Pelosi can't change the subject that fast.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pivot from healthcare to jobs was not quite as smooth as she had hoped.

Buffeted by increases in the unemployment figures in the weeks and months since the stimulus bill passed and was signed into law, the Democrats had hoped to have a healthcare bill to talk about at the next election in order to blunt criticism that they have mismanaged the economy.

Now it's beginning to look like it won't do much good. Most all of the national surveys cite jobs or "jobs and the economy" as the No. 1 issue among likely voters in the next election. And try as she might to change the subject, Pelosi still has some unfinished healthcare business on her side of the Capitol.

It's true she was able to generate a bare majority for the healthcare reform plan—but that bill, as passed by the House of Representatives, is a budget buster, one that exceeds even the generous targets President Obama set down in his healthcare speech to a joint session of Congress several months ago. What Pelosi still has to do is get the so-called "Doc Fix"—a bill that would stop a scheduled multi-billion dollar cut in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and hospitals—through. It's an issue that already tripped up Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and folks who watch what the House does say the prospects for passing it there don't look too good either.

The Pelosi plan, which analysts say would add nearly $300 billion to a deficit already spiraling out-of-control, would also force America's seniors to pay higher Medicare premiums, which is exactly the kind of issue her fellow Democrats do not want to have to defend on the campaign trail next year. Which the Republicans are already promising they will make them do.

House Republican Leader John Boehner said Wednesday that the Pelosi plan was "nothing more than a thinly-veiled attempt to mask the true cost" of government-run healthcare as supported by the Speaker, Reid and President Obama. The real cost of the plan, Boehner and others estimate, is closer to $1.3 trillion dollars, well above the ceiling Obama set in his speech.

Right now, as Reid prepares to introduce a preliminary Senate bill as the first step in kicking off the debate, both he and Pelosi have to contend with the fact that healthcare has so many constantly moving parts that it is hard to keep them all straight. And a misstep regarding anyone of them could doom the healthcare reform effort—at least through the end of the year, which means the "jobs, jobs, jobs" effort will remain on hold for a little while longer.

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